New York, 21. September 2006 Press release

Plassnik: "Syria can make important contribution to stability in the Middle East"

21.09.2006

Austria's Foreign Minister meets Syrian counterpart in New York

New York, 21 September 2006 - Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik met with her Syrian counterpart, Walid al Mouallem, at the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York. Their talks focused on issues concerning the future of the Middle East peace process and on stability in the Near and Middle East.

"Our goal is to find a regional solution to the Middle East crisis which would involve all actors. We are aware that Syria has to be included in these efforts if long-term stability in this crisis-stricken area is to be achieved. Given its specific significance for the region, Syria can - with the international community of states - make a contribution," said Plassnik.

"However, it is now up to Syria to contribute its share in a constructive manner, and to show the necessary political will. Ultimately, it is Syria that has to decide whether it intends to support the international community in its search for solutions or whether it wants to remain isolated," continued the Foreign Minister.

"In humanitarian terms, Syria can exert influence in connection with the release of the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers. As far as Lebanon is concerned, the exchange of ambassadors and the demarcation of borders ought to be possible between two neighbouring states. This includes the ultimate resolution of the important Shebaa farms dispute. An invitation of Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora to a visit in Damascus would be an important gesture furthering confidence-building between the two states," continued Plassnik.

"Syria's contribution to the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 will also be very important. This includes compliance with the arms embargo, whilst effective border control for the prevention of arms smuggling is also necessary. In relation to this I consider it an encouraging sign that Syria expressed its basic interest in potential cooperation with the EU," continued Plassnik.

"Austria has a long tradition of good relations with Syria. Our UN soldiers have been in the Golan Heights for decades, thus making a decisive contribution to peace and stability in the region. But we have also closely cooperated in fostering dialogue between religions and cultures. Indeed, Austria has contributed to defusing the so-called caricature crisis to some extent by hosting the meeting between the Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Möller and the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmed Bader Eddin Hassoun. This cooperation can be built upon," concluded the Foreign Minister.

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